SAN JOSE -– Fresh off another successful road trip in which they earned seven of a possible 10 points, the Sharks are set to open up a lengthy stretch in which they won’t have to leave the Bay Area very often.
In the next month leading up to the NHL All-Star break at the end of January, 11 of the Sharks’ next 14 games will be at SAP Center. While that sounds great in theory, their home struggles have been well documented, as they’ve won just four of 13 games here.
The Sharks host Colorado on Monday, the first of a five-game homestand, their longest string of home games to date. The Sharks have played the fewest number of home games in the NHL.
Now is the time to start winning in their own building.
“We’ve done a very good job on the road setting the table for us to take advantage of being at home,” said coach Pete DeBoer, whose club has an impressive 13-6-2 mark on the road. “The table is set, now you’ve got to eat.”
Colorado seemed to be headed towards a brutal season in the NHL’s toughest division when it hosted the Sharks on Nov. 1. The Sharks captured a 4-3 win over the Avalanche in that one, dropping Colorado to 3-7-1.
Since that meeting, though, the Avalanche have been much better, going 14-10-1 in their last 25. Although they’re still in sixth place in the Central, they suddenly look like a threat to make a playoff push.
“They’ve really made a press to climb back into the standings to where they are now,” Joe Pavelski said. “You’ve got to expect a really good performance out of them, and we’ve got to be ready.”
The Sharks may have an advantage in that Colorado will be playing the second of a back-to-back, having lost in overtime at home to Arizona on Sunday. Conversely, San Jose hasn’t played since Dec. 22 in its final game before the Christmas break, so there could be a rust factor.
Does that give the Avs the advantage?
“I don’t know if it does or not,” Pavelski said. “You’ve got the back-to-back factor in there, but you never know how you’re going to feel.”
The fourth place Sharks (17-15-2, 36 points) would jump back into second place in the Pacific Division with a win and a loss of any kind by the Canucks, who host the Kings.
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The Sharks will ice a new fourth line against Colorado, as Joel Ward’s return from a two-game absence will push others down the lineup. Melker Karlsson and Mike Brown will flank Tomas Hertl to start the game on Monday.
Hertl and Karlsson are both struggling offensively. Hertl has just three goals and 13 points in 33 games, while Karlsson is scoreless in his last 14. Brown has one goal in 31 games, but fought Cody McLeod in the first Sharks-Avs meeting, so he'll stay in over Ben Smith.
“Brownie obviously brings a dimension for us and our group that is unique,” DeBoer said. “The beauty of Brownie is he can keep people honest. At the same time, he can play. You can put him on the ice, he can get on the forecheck, he skates really well, plays hard. His defensive game is getting better every time out.”
Brown said: “They’ve got a little bit of toughness. We’ve got to focus on our game, and if need be, I’m there. I’m going to play with an edge, too. I’m not going to change anything. We’ve played these guys a few times so we know what to expect.”
Colorado has gotten offensive production from its expected fourth line. McLeod has five goals, Jack Skille has six, and center Mikhail Grigorenko has one goal and 10 assists.
The Sharks could use more from their fourth line, which hasn’t done much of note this season.
“I think we’re getting to the point where we’re healthy enough that we can put a dangerous fourth line on the ice,” DeBoer said. “I think we have the personnel when we get healthy we should have a lot of interchangeable units there. Lines that are all capable of hopping over the boards and defending and putting up some goals.”
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Colorado’s Calvin Pickard will be making his first start of the season in goal with regular backup Reto Berra injured. In 47 minutes over two games, Pickard has no record with a 5.11 goals-against average and .840 save percentage.
Martin Jones, 3-0-1 in his last four games, will go for the Sharks. He’s 3-0 in his career against Colorado, including on Nov. 1 when he made 23 saves on 26 shots.